Having spent nearly a decade working for a mission college in Africa, I have a keen interest in African leadership. It is evident that leadership problems abound in every part of the world. There is no culture that is free from the effects of sinful leadership.
Each culture has horrible leaders. And, each culture gives them a free pass for various and often different reasons.
Bad leaders may not be held accountable for their sin because of their popularity and gifting in certain places (i.e. United States). And, bad leaders may continue unabated because they “must be respected” in other cultures (African or Asian). I am not an expert on cultures, so these are only my opinions after cursory evaluations.
When I spoke with Praise (not his real name), he shared his own experience with leadership abuse in the African nation in which he grew up. Praise was a young man when he traveled to a distant village to assist a pastor while going to school. The pastor took him into his house, but did not pay him anything.
Praise enjoyed the work, walking over four miles to the church each day. His living arrangements at the pastor’s home was the “sitting room” where the TV was and had arise early to be out of the way and go to bed late often as the family watched TV.
The real trouble started when he began “dating” a woman and wanted to marry her. The pastor and leadership of the church however, wanted him to marry someone else. Their choice of a wife lived in a neighboring country.
Physical and Spiritual Wounds
While escorting the woman to her home at 6 pm one evening, he was attacked by several men. They took pangas (machetes) to Praise. He was badly hurt. The savage attack was likely tribal according to Praise. To his disappointment, despite using a little room behind the church, no one from the church were of any help to him.
Rather than seek help for and encourage Praise, the pastor accusingly told him, “See, I told you not to marry this lady.”
When Praise was giving testimony to the church about the attack, he expressed his frustration at the lack of help that he received from church members as he recovered from his wounds. But, the pastor told the church, “I don’t know this man. I don’t know who brought you to this church.”
The pastor then proceeded to ask him to write a resignation letter, though his position was only voluntary.
Praise taught a Sunday morning Bible study each week at the church. During the church worship “announcements” following Praise’s Bible study, the pastor publicly railed against Praise, telling the members of the church “not to have anything to do with him.” According to Praise, the pastor told the church he was “excommunicating Praise that day.”
Adding insult to injury, he proclaimed authoritaringly that Praise would “never succeed.”
Praise left and went to another church.
Praise told me, in churches that have “less structure” like mission churches, the “members give a lot of respect to pastors.” He said, “Even when members are being abused by pastors, it is hard to identify.”
He explained, they would “rather be oppressed quietly for the sake of getting something small for the family.” Men of low economic class suffer the most. They see God as speaking more to the pastor. “The Pastor is a mediator between me and God.”
Praise noted that it is difficult for congregant members to know whether the pastor is speaking revelation from the Lord or their own words.
In addition, Praise said, “The calling of individual pastors is defined by how they act socially, economically and how they are connected politically.” If they have money then God has blessed them and therefore, they must be specially called.
“Even if a pastor is a molester, but has money, followers do not speak up.”
Praise said, “It’s very frustrating. They take advantage of widows and orphans . . . even sleep with them, but give them money. Because they are poor they feel threatened by pastors.”
Continued Leadership Struggles
Hurt and confused, Praise left the church and planted another church. It grew significantly. They even brought on an Assistant Pastor to help Praise in his work.
His Assistant invited several friends as preachers to an evening vigil they had planned. It is common for African churches to have long nighttime meetings with much singing and praying with additional guests speaking to the congregation.
However, Praise said, “One of the visiting preachers accused me of not respecting my assistant pastor whom they expected I should work under. He used a traditional saying ‘when the cat is out the rat takes the reins of power.’ In this context, I was the rat and my Assistant Pastor was the cat.”
Another job opportunity was presented to Praise after he had finished his Masters degree. The international church organization seemed to be a good fit for Praise. He made the “shortlist” from those applying but after interviewing he was not picked for the position. Apparently, having come from a “small church” was the reason according to one of the panelists.
Again, another organization had an opening for which Praise applied. However, he was required to attain a recommendation letter from “a local church organization.” When he requested the letter, an American women who was married to a Kenyan told him that they would not provide a recommendation letter. She did not give him a reason, but later he found out that she had asked the church organization to write a recommendation letter for her husband who was also applying for the position.
Most recently, Praise has been teaching for a local university, “but because of tribalism” he was never paid. In the space of three years of serving the university he has received $35.
But, as he continues to somehow provide for his family, he has not given up the struggle.
When I asked Praise what has provided the most healing for him while going through these many difficult leadership difficulties, he said, “Speaking to a friend to take solace. Just speaking with him – speaking into his life.”
In addition, he explained, “My wife has stood beside me. I almost threw off my doctoral work.” One of his graduate professors encouraged Praise. He helped him know that God would help him in what he was going through if he remain focused.
At times, like Job, Praise asked, “Why did God do this? Why have you taken my life to be an object of test? You are breaking me. You are stretching me too much.”
He said he began asking if he was not praying well? “Sometimes I get too ‘traditional’ . . . some believe that if a person is going through a lot of suffering he has been ‘bewitched.'” But he said in his frustration, “I am born again! Why can’t you, Lord deal with it?”
It was a very hard time, but he neither gave up on Christ nor ministry.
Praise is currently part of an international “think tank” that is seeking ways to help the global church respond to abuse and create safe churches for those who are suffering or have suffered abuse of various kinds.
Praise knows he has experienced trauma, but the Lord is His Good Shepherd and he knows that God provides for the oppressed.